Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Last post of the year

I truly appreciate everyone who has stopped by since I started this blog in February. At times, I've been amazed at how many people come by. At other times, I've been frustrated that there weren't more.

I hope that the new year brings much happiness and wonder in your lives. All indications here are that, after many long years of preparation, things are ready to start moving. You will be a part of that movement here, and I hope some of it will rub off into your personal life as well.

God Bless. Stop back often.


Friday, December 30, 2005

A Lie or a Hoax: Part Two

Micah Sifry often says that first thing to remember about writing for the public is that the public will always know more than you do. Even in areas where you think you know something, this remains true. Yesterday, I cross-posted Hoax or Lie over at Daily Kos and was pleased, and very surprised (and equally gratified), to see my post rank tops in the "Recommended Diary" list. This brought close to two hundred comments (several of which are my replies) on the targeting of mosques, the overall war on terror, and the progress of physics in the last twenty years.

The wonderful thing about blogging is that this all occurred in real-time - rather than firing off a letter to the editor of some newspaper and waiting if the author would correct the mistakes that were exposed. There were, in fact, mistakes. In my defense, they were honest ones and the more physicist-y commenters agreed that, working on twenty year old knowledge, that I had pegged a real problem. However, newer technologies have made it possible to detect a single proton escaping a concrete block and determine from what type of atom it escaped. So, my apologies to Michael Mason, the director of Field Operations for the FBI in Washington, for my assertion that he was either lying or perpetrating a hoax. My apologies, as well, to everyone who was mis-led by my statements to that effect.

The commentors also brought up a different matter that I believe is deserving of attention. Several news stories or related personal stories of people who had set off radiation moitoring equipment after having been treated for cancer with nuclear isotopes. With the twenty year old equipment with which I am familiar, that is understandable. With the use of spectrometry - the newer technology - it isn't.

I live about a mile away from the Holland Tunnel - a main artery to NYC through which millions of cars pass each day. Truck traffic is diverted up to the Lincoln Tunnel or the George Washington Bridge. Security at these vital transportation sites has supposedly been upgraded, and - at least at times - includes radiological monitoring. More than once, this monitoring has led to false positive alarms from cancer patients. My first question, once the technical nature of things had been overcome, was: Why is this technology not deployed for the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and G.W. Bridge? When reports of false alarms at border crossings were related, I had to wonder why the best technology was not deployed there, as well.

I do believe, as John Kerry stated:

Mr. President, preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the most important issues facing the United States today. Since the end of the Cold War, we have made great strides in reducing the danger to the American people of the vast nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union. But the nuclear danger persists, and the job of nuclear arms control is far from finished. Multiple nuclear tests detonated by India and Pakistan emphasize the need for greater U.S. leadership on this critical issue--not less.

That was in 1999, by the way - so don't dismiss it as Presidential candidate-speak.

That proliferation has to include, not only formal nuclear weapons, but also what the Navy taught me to refer to as "Loss of RAM" - anytime RadioActive Material was not properly contained and controlled. In other words, it isn't enough to monitor silos to make sure weapons remain encased, but you have to make sure that small amounts of material is not taken from them and sold off on the blackmarket. You also have to look at the possible loss of legitimate medical radioactive technologies - such as the x-ray sources used all over the place - as a possible source for black market material.

There are few things in the world that a person with a lot of money cannot acquire if they set their mind and wallet to doing so. Nuclear material is no different in this respect than any other controlled substance. Not only do we have to make it as difficult as possible for people to acquire this material if they have no legitimate use for it, but we must also plan for contingencies where such legitimate material is lost or stolen.

So, I don't find it to be alarming that the FBI was monitoring suspected sites for radiation. I think it would be a dereliction of duty to not do so. There are a few things that still bother me - though I freely admit that it may simply be a lack of access to classified information. I'm not saying that every citizen should have access to every security measure, either. A good part of maintaining security is keeping some of your security measures visible - a show of force - and some secret - so no one can plan in advance how to subvert them.

From a security standpoint, monitoring a single mosque - or even several hundred of them - is of limited use. All it can tell you is that there is nothing to be concerned about at this specific time (though there may be some residual radiation from inadvertant contamination). It can't accurate guarantee the past and there is no way to guarantee the future - for that, you have to have continuous monitoring.

From a perpective terrorist's point of view, this makes it somewhat easy to foil - simply avoid storing material in the mosque. Security that is easy to foil is simply one of two things - a hoax or a lie.

It makes more sense to use your best equipment at the point where it will do the most good - which means putting it someplace where it will actually monitor multiple potential threats. Logically, the first line of defense would have to be the borders and shipping ports. There are thousands, if not millions, of entry points into the country. However, the number of places to hide nuclear material once it is inside the country are at least a thousand-fold more numerous -meaning there are probably billions (if not trillions) of places to hide stuff inside the country. If our laws and regulations are doing an adequate job of monitoring and controlling nuclear material generated within the country (and I'm not sure if they are or not); then the logical step from that point is to stop outside sources from coming in.

There are some indications that this sort of project may not be getting the type of funding it needs to be successful. While it's great to force Latin American ports to get tougher on nuclear monitoring, it does no good if our own ports are unprotected.

The only references I can honestly find to nuclear monitoring at the NYC tunnel/bridge crossings has to do with the Republican National Convention. Is NYC really that much less of a target without the RNC? I know the tunnels at Baltimore and Norfolk are busy and strategically important - as are the Golden Gate, the Verrazano Narrows, and Brooklyn bridges (to begin naming a few). Each of these is an entryway to a large population of people, business, and/or military targets for terrorism. Each of them would provide an opportunity to screen innumerable numbers of possible carriers of nuclear material more than any single structure, or group of structures.

Perhaps all of these measures are already being taken and we are just unaware of them. It is possible that the false alarms came during transition periods when second-rate equipment was deemed better than no equipment at all. At this distance from 9/11, however, the onus of protection - and proof - lies fully on the shoulders of the Bush Administration. Frisking Al Gore and monitoring mosques may be part of an overall plan, but a deterrant effect is not achieved unless enough measures are known to discourage potential criminals. At this point, no one is the Bush Administration has hinted at such plans - or even at the desire to make such plans and implement them.

This renders the flurry of activity over spying and unwarranted monitoring one of two things: a lie or a hoax.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hoax or Lie?

One of the reasons I began to study politics was that I know some things that the general public doesn't. I don't mean I've witnessed any sort of secret discussions on government conspiracies or anything. I simply mean that I am a graduate of the US Navy's Nuclear Power School and that I have knowledge that people who haven't been in that sort of program do not have. I'm sure everyone who reads this can say that about something, so I'm not claiming that I'm so much smarter or better anyone. I just want to establish that I do have a fairly good understanding of the technical part of the topic I'm about to discuss with you.

The Bush Administration has admitted that it has circumvented legal channels to place wiretaps to listen to certain individuals' private conversations. It has also admitted that it monitored mosques for radiation. Nuclear power school didn't prepare me to comment on the technical nature of wire-tapping - though I was trained as an electrician, and it's fairly easy to tap a phone. It did give me a basic understanding of methods used to monitor radiation sources. It is this understanding that leads me to conclude that someone in the Bush Administration is simply lying about monitoring mosques.

To understand what I'm talking about, you may want to read this article. In it, the Bush Administration claims that it monitored mosques without targeting based on faith.

Excuse me? Am I missing something? Are there Christian mosques out there? Hindu mosques? Pagan mosques?

Isn't the word "mosque" used solely to describe places set aside for Islamic worship?

So right there, it's an outright lie.

A more honest answer would be "We targeted mosques because every single one of the hijackers on 9/11 worshipped at a mosque. All of our intelligence indicated that mosques might be used as part of a black-market shipment system. However, faith was not the only criterion used to determine which mosques should be monitored."

Before I go on, I'll say that I believe the government was right to consider mosques (and temples, synagogues, churches) as legitimate locations for surveillance. I also believe that, if specific intelligence said nuclear material was being held or moved, that radiation monitoring is the right step to take.

I don't believe that they would have to circumvent the legal protections afforded people and the institutions they comprise. I also don't believe this statement:

"We have not violated the law; we have not violated the Constitution; we have not gone on private property," Mason said.

"Mason" is Michael Mason, who oversees the Washington Field Office of the FBI.

Mason's statement is either a lie or a statement of incompetance. You cannot adequately monitor a building for dangerous radiation without going into it. Let me explain why.

First, understand that we are talking about monitoring gamma waves. The way an area is monitored is that a device is placed in the area that contains material that interacts with gamma waves. The renown "Geiger counter" is one type of such device, generally refered to as dosimeters (because they "meter" the "dose" of radiation). If you use the wrong kind of dosimeter, you will get a false reading - so you have to know exactly what isotope your are checking for.

Now, it is possible that Agent Mason is actually telling us that they have a room next-door to a mosque that is well-equipped with several different types of dosimeters to ensure proper measurements. Possible. That still wouldn't give too accurate of a reading, though.

Why? Because there are three things that lower dosage of radiation: time, distance, and shielding. Time should be self-explanitory. A radioactive isotope emits particles because bits of its atomic material are breaking free. Eventually, a lump of any radioactive material will simply cease to be radioactive. You just have to wait a few million years for most of them.

Shielding is another matter. Just like visible light can penetrate some materials (lamp-shade) but not others (concrete wall), gamma waves can also penetrate some material better than other materials. In general, materials that are dense and/or have higher atomic numbers are harder to penetrate - meaning they are better shields. That's why the X-ray tech stands behind that stupid wall to zap your bones (as well as being the reason that your bones show up when it is done).

Just as decay-rates are measured by half-lifes, shielding is measured by the thickness of a material that will cut the exposure in half, which is called "half-thickness". In general (and there are exceptions) lead's half-thickness is 1 inch, about 2.5 inches of concrete, about 3.5 inches of packed dirt, around 24 inches of water, etc.

So, let's say you are in a brick building that is built adjacent to a mosque that is also made of brick. A standard masonry brick is about 2.5 inches thick - roughly one half-thickness (for shielding purposes, a brick is very close to concrete). That means there are two half-thicknesses minimum between a potential source in a mosque basement and the adjoining basement where the monitor is. That means that any potential radiation from that source is cut to at least one-fourth of what it would otherwise be. If they simply put a lead shield up, then it would be halved again.

Here's the rub, though. Anyone who put a gamma source on a table and walked away from it uncovered is simply begging for sickness and a painful death. They would at least cover it in a lead box that would be a minimum of one inch thick. If it was two inches thick; then the radiation right next to the box would be quartered. The FBI monitor on the other side of the basement wall would be trying to detect radiation at one-sixteenth the level of the source.

Here's another problem. To properly detect anything, the dosimeter has to be zeroed out - it has to be calibrated to not count background radiation. There is always background radiation, too. You can't get away from it. So if you zero it out in the room you are monitoring from, then you are going to detect nothing. If you zero it out somewhere else, then you run the risk of getting a false reading. Dosimeters are susceptible to being shaken - meaning that you can force it to detect radiation if you shake it hard enough. That's the whole reason why you have to re-calibrate it with every use.

The best way to test is to get into the suspect room and walk around (in protective gear) with a personal broad-range dosimeter. That, however, would definitely require going onto private property.

There are ways to compensate for all of these problems. The point is that you have to already know what you are looking for to jump in and search for it. Otherwise, you end up with a false sense of security that can be dangerous, even life-threatening. The only thing worse than violating the Constitution to keep us safe would be to violate the Constitution to keep us safe and end up not protecting us at all. Incompetence heaped upon illegal and, quite possibly, unethical behavior does no one service.

Or, it's all just a cruel lie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Good Stuff

From Blue Jersey, I pass along this simple meme:

Four jobs you've had in your life: Navy Enlisted Electrician's Mate, Addictions Counselor, Youth Counselor, Adjunct Lecturer of Political Science

Four movies you could watch over and over: Shrek, Shrek 2, Happy Texas, Harold and Maude

Four places you've lived: Texas, New Mexico, Florida, New Jersey

Four TV shows you love to watch: West Wing, Grey's Anatomy, The Daily Show, Good Eats

Four places you've been on vacation: what's that?

Four websites you visit daily: Yahoo, Blue Jersey, Blue Texas, NJ.com

Four of your favorite foods: Tamales, sandwiches, cookies, nachos

Four places you'd rather be: To live? No where. To visit? Texas, New Mexico, Florida, Spain

Hearty congratulations to Reverend Mother and baby!

I'll most likely post more later.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Morality is Where the Dollar Lands

A budget is a moral document. It's so self-evident that it seems both enlightening and obvious to say it. Well, duh! It forces you to set priorities. It tells you what you can do, and what you'd like to, but can't.

Yeah, but it's more than priorities. It tells you what you think is right and wrong. You value a roof over your head more than a case of beer in your fridge.

Our budget is a travesty. It's a stick in the eye of the American dream.

It's a sin.

Well over two hundred thousand have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. No one really knows how many have been shot at, or how many have shot back. No one knows how many remember taking their first human life.

That isn't true. Someone knows. The men and women who have been there. The men and women who can't forget. Now, it seems, we are abandoning them to their dreams - and their nightmares.

For most of us, these veterans remain nameless, faceless. Not to their families, their wives and mothers, their children and fathers, maybe even to each other. I know one. He sat in my class for most of this last semester. Thankfully, his mother convinced him to go to the VA hospital at Thansgiving. I spoke to him briefly when he returned to classes. I wish I could say I'd never seen that look of helplessness before - the repeated shrugging as his head shook slightly but quickly, the eyes that looked back into time and empty tears that dragged slowly from his eyes. I've seen it, though. I saw it magnified a thousand times the day my brother attempted CPR on his son and failed to bring him back. It's the look of a man with a hole in his soul.

Now we are saying, collectively, through our representatives, that these hollow men are not worth a few pennies on the dollar of our earnings.

It's immoral that we should ask these brave few to give so much and refuse them so completely.

Have we learned nothing from Viet Nam? Must we shuffle through another generation of walking wounded?

Can we not find our compassion? Our responsibility? Our liability?

Are our souls so hardened and corrupted?

Ask the poor. More children will get sick - and more will die - because we want a strong and growing economy. Sacrifice our lambs.

We splash their blood on the altar of our transportation god - the patron god of pork spending and log rolling. We grind their bones upon the stairs of the twin gods of capital gains and dividends.

A budget is a moral document. It reveals rhetoric as being either empty or fulfilled. It reveals your priorities. It reveals your morality.

This budget - this document upon which the God of War strides triumphant, striking friend and foe equally - is wrong.

It is sin.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Alito the Apologist

The news is that George Bush wants to start 2006 with a victory - namely:

Bush will be after the Senate to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court in January.

Well, if Bush wants a victory, perhaps he should pick a better nominee.

Alito's ethics are questionable. So is his insistence that wiretaps don't need judicial oversight.

There is simply no place in American politics for someone who believes that they (or anyone else) should have authority, but not accountability. The US Constitution does not give any hint of giving governmental officials special standing above the law.

The 1984 wiretapping memo involved a lawsuit filed against Nixon administration attorney general John N. Mitchell, who in 1970 had ordered wiretaps of antiwar activists. The FBI suspected the activists of plotting to blow up Washington utility tunnels and kidnap Henry A. Kissinger, then President Richard M. Nixon's national security adviser. The case had been in the courts for years, and it fell to Alito to prepare a memo on whether the government should ask the Supreme Court to review an adverse lower court decision.

Harry S. Truman reportedly kept a sign that read "The Buck Stops Here" on his desk. We've fallen a long way since that time.

George W. Bush claims:

"As president and commander in chief," Mr. Bush said at a news conference on Monday, "I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country. Article II of the Constitution gives me that responsibility and the authority necessary to fulfill it."

No one - well, no one outside of the White House - is fooled.

Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University, said the administration was reading the authorization too broadly. "No fair-minded person," he said, "can read an authorization to use military force as authority to go off and do domestic spying."


Daniel J. Solove, a law professor at George Washington University, asked: "If the authorization of military force empowered the president to do something as far removed from fighting a war as this, does it authorize the president to violate any conceivable law to fight terrorism?"


The constitutional powers granted to the president, Professor Chemerinsky countered, do not authorize him to conduct domestic spying. "If that were true, why would there have to be a FISA court at all?" Professor Chemerinsky asked.

The Constitution set up an independent judiciary to help hold in check Presidential and Congressional power. Alito looks dead set to erase that sacred duty. Too many times in the past, our Courts have dobbed their head demurrely as civil rights were trampled. Yes, we survived. However, heaping shame upon shame is no way to run a country.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Faith on the Web

The Baltimore Sun reports that faith on the internet (registration required) is growing strong. Apparently, the emphasis lies in the concept of pluralism - with organizations who maintain a broad focus and an expansive concept of faith receiving broad support. If you understand that people approach faith from many directions and for many reasons, then you begin to understand why a broad approach is needed.

Being useful to a broad range of visitors - Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, Jew and non-Jew - is an important goal of MyJewishLearning.com, says Paul Roitman Bardack, chief executive officer of the two-year-old Web site.

Nor should it be assumed that such interaction is taken lightly:

"A great deal of data seems to indicate that people that are isolated for whatever reason find connection to religious information online to be a good source of satisfaction and can lead to the creation of religious communities over the Internet," said Donald Braxton, a religious studies professor at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.

Interesting - a church without walls, without boundaries to keep people out and only the faith that they find to hold them in. It's a very different concept of faith than the one in which I was raised. It also seems more in keeping with the example of Jesus' life.

Jesus only rarely, according to the Gospels, spoke in any organized worship service. Rather, his teachings were ad hoc - with him standing in a boat or on a rock on the mountain and facing the crowd. That did not mean they were any less grounded in solid theology - in fact, they were so strongly rooted in the meaning, rather than the literal word, of his religion that it revolutionized faith from his life forward.

But Jesus was only one man - and he became dependent on others to spread his words. Those people then deputized others, who deputized others, and a few along the way actually wrote a few things down. Very few people actually got to interact with Jesus, though. The records we have of his question and answer sessions are very slight.

Not to put myself, or anyone else around to day, on the same level as Jesus - but the interactive nature of the internet provides a means of both building broad interaction and challenging authority. This creates a much better crucible for defining and building faith. In other words, it breaks down barriers.

"It is removing religious information from its isolation," he said. "It becomes easier for a practitioner from one religious tradition to learn about the practices of another. ... Certainly, there is a larger awareness of the cosmos of religious choices that they face."

Moreover, the internet reaches people that otherwise would have no access to this information:

Describing some who use the site, Morris Rodenstein, the help-desk representative, said he has heard from an Episcopal priest who had landed the part of the rabbi in a local production of Fiddler on the Roof, a tribal chief in Papua New Guinea interested in learning about Judaism and a 70-year-old Jewish rancher in Montana who is more than 200 miles from the nearest synagogue.

Yet what can tear down walls can also raise them up. There is no shortage of divisive rhetoric available on the internet. Nor is this necessarily a bad thing - after all, Christians are taught to be in the world, but not of the world. We are to be fully engaged with what happens around us, yet we are not to forsake our guiding principles and values. We can understand each other and study each other's cultures and theologies without losing that aspect of our own culture and theology that makes us unique. Learning about and respecting others does not mean losing ourselves.

That is, I believe, the great fear of the Religious Right. For some reason, they seem to fear that allowing others full expression of their faith will somehow lessen their own ability to proclaim conservative beliefs. I know I've heard and read statements to that effect. That stems from a Malthusian outlook that sees only a limited amount of room for expression. Allowing new voices necessarily reduces old voices because the public arena is a zero-sum game. For me to gain, you have to lose.

There are some things that are like that. The public arena for discussion is not, though. Allowing Blacks and women to vote in the United States, for example, did not push the voices of White men out of politics - and judging from the continued preponderance of white males in influential positions, it hasn't even diluted their voice substantially. Allowing a more diverse Christian voice, along with Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, and other voices, will not destroy the conservative Christian voice, either. Nor should it seek to.

The goal of the Progressive Faith BlogCon is not to silence the right - nor even to be reactionary against them. It is merely to enlarge the public arena and engage more of the public in open and frank discussions about their faith, regardless of what heritage it is drawn from. We seek to make the public voice more inclusive - to add to the family of faith.

Come, let us reason together.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Deja Vu All Over Again

The Star-Ledger is joining a growing chorus of people calling for the reigning in of executive power in the Bush Administration. There's good reason.

Spying on Americans' phone calls. Shipping foreigners to secret overseas prison camps where torture may be routine. FBI surveillance of environmental and anti-poverty organizations. Keeping a Pentagon database on the activities of peaceful antiwar protests, including one at William Paterson University.

That's only the leading paragraph. Nor have we received any sort of apology from the President - or any of his cabinet members - for violating the moral values of the American people. Instead, we get a Machiavellian defense of "The Fox and The Lion". "I didn't want to do this - but I had to!"

Anyone who remembers "Tricky Dick" Nixon (or any parent of a toddler) should be entirely consumed in "deja vu all over again".

FROST: So what in a sense, you're saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston Plan or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

NIXON: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.

FROST: By definition.

NIXON: Exactly. Exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security, or in this case because of a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they're in an impossible position.


That is absolutely wrong. The President is not above the law - to say otherwise is to totally ignore the totallity of American political theory and heritage.

There's a reason for the deja vu-ness here. The White House is virtually crawling with hold-over scum from the Nixon Administration. Here's a few links of key Administration figures to Nixon's cancerous abuse of power:

Dick Cheney:
Dick Cheney's political career began under the Nixon administration in 1969. He served in a number of positions, such as: Cost of Living Council, at the United States Office of Economic Opportunity (as a special assistant to Donald Rumsfeld beginning in the spring of 1969), and within the White House.

Donald Rumsfeld:
Assistant and Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Cabinet of President Richard M. Nixon, 1969-1970; Counsellor to President Richard M. Nixon, 1970-1973; Director of the Cost of Living Council, 1971-1973; Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1973-1974

Paul Wolfowitz :
In 1972 U.S. President Richard Nixon under pressure from U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson, who was unhappy with the SALT I strategic arms limitations talks and the policy of détente, dismissed the head of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and replaced him with Fred Ikle. Ikle brought in a completely new team including Wolfowitz, who had been recommended by his old tutor Albert Wohlstetter. Wolfowitz once again set to work writing and distributing research papers and drafting testimony, as he had previously done at the Committee to Maintain A Prudent Defence Policy. He also traveled with Ikle to strategic arms limitations talks in Paris and other European cities. His greatest success was in dissuading South Korea from reprocessing plutonium that could be diverted into a clandestine weapons program, a situation that would re-occur north of the border during the George W. Bush administration.

So, Ilke was hired by Nixon, who hand-picked Wolfowitz (who, incidentally, hand-picked his student, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby).

Stephen Hadley (National Security Advisor):
Hadley worked as an analyst for the comptroller of the defense department from 1972 to 1974, when Richard Nixon was in office, and as a member of the National Security Council staff under President Gerald Ford from 1974 to 1977.

As a bonus, Mr. Hadley also:
served as counsel to the special review board established by President Ronald Reagan to look into US arms sales to Iran.

John Snow, the Secretary of the Treasury, also started out as an attorney in the Nixon White House - though you'll find sparse reference to it.

Andrew Card comes to the Bush Administration through Poppy's Administration, where he served as Secretary of Transportation. Prior to that, he was an "assistant to the President" and Deputy Chief of Staff for Poppy.

Poppy, of course, was so far up Nixon's butt he could tell you what Tricky Dick had for breakfast. He served as US Ambassador the UN and RNC Chair during Nixon's reign.

Of course, being hired by Nixon doesn't mean they were in on everything Nixon did. However, Nixon was notorious for wanting to fill his house with people who were loyal - or at least shared his philosophy. When your philosophy is "The President cannot, by definition, break the law," that's a dangerous house.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Spinning Bad News into Good

My brother likes to say, "Figures don't lie, but liars do figure." I usually tell my students, "Numbers don't lie - but they generally don't tell the whole story, either." This falls into line with the famous quote, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

So everyone is going to try and spin the soon-to-be-released statistics on pregnancy and abortion.

There is much to celebrate - such as the fact that the abortion rate is down almost two percent since 1995. For the last year studied, the Guttmacher Institute found that around 24% of all pregnancies in the United States are ended through legal abortion. As the article shows, anti-abortion groups are crowing:

"I don't think there's any mystery here," said Susan Wills, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The new data underscores that more women are turning away from abortions, even when it's a pregnancy they don't initially want, said Wills, associate director for education in the Conference's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

"It shows a real pro-life shift," she said.

There is a false connection between lower abortion rates and the assertion that "more women are turning away from abortions". There is also a lot of mixed news for those who are concerned about more than just the rate of abortions. I'll come back to that in a minute, but first, let's look at whether or not women are actually "turning away from abortions".

Historically, the abortion rate (i.e., the percentage of abortions ended by abortion) peaked in 1979-80 at just below 30%. It hovered around 21% just after the change of the millenium, and is now rising again. If we look at the data over time, then the average abortion rate since 1980 is around 25%. The drop to 24% is the statistical equivalent of a rounding error - just a squiggle in the chart.

Then there is this little tidbit tucked away in the report:

As much as 43% of the decline in abortion between 1994 and 2000 can be attributed to the use of emergency contraception.

The difference in the abortion rate between 1994 and 2000 is 2.4% - which means that at least 1% of the total drop was due to the use of the "morning after pill". Since most of the really radical anti-abortion groups consider these to have been abortions, then they would have to add them back into the statistics before claiming that a "pro-life shift" has occurred - which would put us right back at the 25% mark. In case you're wondering what the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' official position on the "morning after pill", you can find it here.

It's important to understand that this is just "abortion rates" that are being discussed - not actual numbers of abortions. Please forgive my continued inability to post pdf files as links, but the information I'm about to cite all comes from the Allan Guttmacher Institute - the same source as the numbers listed above. That, at least, provides some stability.

The actual number of abortions in the United States has declined slightly - to an estimated 1,293,000 in 2002 from 1,370,000 in 1996. That is a statistically significant decline and it should be celebrated by people on all sides of the issue. However, it is not likely due to a "real pro-life shift". The use of the "morning after pill" mentioned above would account for slightly more than 33,000 of the 77,000 per year reduction. That is a very slight decline upon which to base a statement concerning a significant shift in public opinion.

There are several confounding trends that come out in the study. One thing to keep in mind, when considering the decrease in the number of abortions, is that the number of pregnancies has dropped. It doesn't take a huge jump in imagination to figure that at least some of the unwanted pregnancies that would have been aborted are also in that category of pregnancies that didn't occur. If half of the remaining abortions simply never occurred, then that means we've only seen a drop of 22,000 abortions. That's still good news, but no sweeping change.

As well, the manner in which Guttmacher researchers determine if a pregnancy is unwanted is flawed, in my opinion. The question, "Right before you became pregnant, did you yourself want to have a baby at any time in the future?" is inherently biased. A girl of 15 who wanted to have a baby when she was 30 would answer "Yes", and thus be listed as "mistimed". Only a woman who never wanted to have a baby could honestly answer "No" to that question. A better way to ask it would be, "Were you planning to have a baby when you became pregnant?" There is a vast difference between a pregnancy that is unwanted, and one that is simply not planned for.

The trend uncovered by the researchers indicates, to me, that the question might not be understood - at least by some of the respondents. Why would more teens never plan on having a child than older women who are, for the most part, closing in on the end of their childbearing years? I would guess, from my personal contact with people, that most young people would end up classifying their pregnancy as mistimed - maybe by ten or twenty years - than unwanted, if you use their criteria.

The bad news - for everyone - is that more unwanted pregnancies are occurring and especially among teens. Further, more children are being born into single-parent households.

More unwanted pregnancies occuring in younger women who have limited or no means of financial support is nothing to celebrate - and it certainly doesn't qualify as a shift against abortion. If anything, it shows that there remains a lot of work to do in teaching women control of their bodies and their ability to determine when - and if - they become pregnant.

Monday, December 19, 2005

What's the Reason for the Season?

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

This is how St. Luke describes the reaction of the angels to the birth of Jesus. No Christmas trees, no six-foot plastic bubbles with blowing snow inside, no Santa Claus, no reindeer, and nary a sleigh in site. Peace. Good will. The birth of a child in a filthy barn.

Yet, some two thousand years after the birth of that child, we seem to have forgotten how to approach peace, much less make it happen. We seem to have a government that is grimly determined to continue a war despite repeatedly showing it cannot handle the responsibility. The President's national address seems more designed to distract the American public than it does to take personal responsibility or renew our sense of purpose. While Democrats line up to show how tough they are, Republicans are busy quietly cutting the guts out of modern America.

Peace. Good will. The birth of a child in a filthy barn.

Meanwhile, we argue about cultural hegemony.

This year, it seems to be, these things will be as unnoticed as they were over two thousand years ago.

Come, Let us Reason Together

Friday, December 16, 2005

What Would Jesus Do? Let them die! says Religious Right

I am, admittedly, a political junkie. Several times a month, my wife has to tell me, "You're getting too involved. Don't forget you have a family." I need that kind of reminder, once in a while. One of the things that my political junkie-ness has pushed me to do is to become a member in the American Political Consultants Association. A perk to this was a subscription to "The Hill" - which is a newspaper put out specifically about the members of Congress, their staffers, and lobbyists. I get it a week late because of the mail delay, but it has a ton of info in it.

I apologize for not having a link to send you directly to this story, written by Alexander Bolton, but it appeared in the December 7 edition of "The Hill":
Angst on the Right over Frist: Citing Inaction, Family Research Council drops Senate from its annual scorecard:

A lobbyist for another prominent conservative advocacy group said conservative voters, who believe they delivered control of the government to the GOP last year, are so disenchanted that many may not vote next November.

I could disagree with a lot in that statement, but I just don't believe that they are refusing to vote. They'll learn to hold their noses like the rest of us. The important thing is that they are upset and at least trying to talking tough to try and pressure people

Several conservative leaders have attributed the lack of actions partly to Frist, who controls the Senate calendar...


Frist has won many big victories for conservatives, the aide added, such as shepherding Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to confirmation, limiting federal spending on hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast and threatening to strip Democrats of filibuster power over judicial nominees.

Wait a minute! The Religious Right's priority is in limiting FEDERAL HURRICANE RELIEF? Someone hand me a concordance quick! I need to see where the Bible says, "Thou shalt tread the poor under your heel and deny them succor when they lose their homes."

Let's be clear, too. We ARE talking about the Religious Right. The groups specifically mentioned in the article are not the Heritage Foundation, but the Family Research Council, the Free Congress Foundation, and Concerned Women for America.

Perhaps the people running these groups need to read up on the Gospel of Mark: "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want." (14: 7). Perhaps they need to find Proverbs 22: 9 "A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.". Maybe they never read Isaiah 41: 17 "The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them."

Why are these groups claiming to speak for Christianity? Doesn't this sound a bit more like Jesus? No wonder America hates Christians - it has a group of imposters claiming the name while stamping their foot in America's face.

I don't doubt the faith of anyone associated with these groups - but I do doubt the connection between their stated goals as a group and the things they are trying to accomplish. I don't find a single verse in the Bible where Jesus tried to keep anyone from helping the poor.

This is why we need a voice for progressive faith.

Come, Let Us Reason Together

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why "Progressive" Faith?

Perhaps no word has been as overused, and under-understood, in the last three years than the word "Progressive". It is often used synonymously with the word "Liberal" - but is that the proper usage?

For those of us who move between the worlds of politics and faith (and sometimes inhabit both simultaneously), it is necessary to have an understanding of what the two words mean. After all, how can you stand for something if you don't know what you stand for?

British historican Raymond Williams delved into the historical development of the words. "Liberal", according to Williams, in the fourteenth century, derived from a noun used to denote a free man - i.e., someone who was not a slave. It has the same root as the word "Liberty". When it became a social descriptor in the eighteenth century, it refered to "unorthodox", and was often used derisively by those who felt they knew better. As monarchies fell, and functioning democracies became a reality, "Liberal" developed its own orthodoxy. Conservatives attacked it (and lumped it with progressivism) as being weak and sentimental. Socialists attacked its focus on the individual nature of man. Williams finishes his discussin by saying that, "Liberalism is then a doctrine of certain necessary kinds of freedom, but also, and essentially, a doctrine of possessive individualism."

My interpretation of all that is that "liberals" were originally the emergent middle class that saw they did not need to depend on the aristocracy for their financial well-being, but did not want to address collective causes of crime, poverty, and other social ills.

"Progressive" originally occurred in direct opposition to "conservatives". It was seen as a natural division and explanation of political forces. One side wants to "conserve" the current status quo and one side believe that "progress", or change, was inevitable and could be positive. Progressives were naturally liberal - as a subset of liberals. In other words, all progressives were liberal, but not all liberals were progressive. "Progressive" became closely tied with the ideas of evolution and civilization - that there was an orderly improvement in conditions. Williams ends by stating that "Progressive" is not truly a descriptive term (in politics), but rather a persuasive one.

Politically, I don't think there are any "conservatives" out there. No one is trying to defend the status quo. Rather, the people calling themselves "conservative" are really radically re-gressive. The days of Barry Goldwater's principled conservatism as a defense of individual freedom (which comes very close to Williams' liberalism") is dead. Rather than argue for tax cuts on the basis of allowing people to gain a greater share of freedom, modern conservatives argue against "double taxation" or "economic necessity". Rather than talk about the ballooning deficit enslaving future generations by our reluctance to pay our fair share, they claim the deficit doesn't matter.

If we are to maintain the break Williams identifies as the main difference between liberal and progressive being the difference between individual and social responsibility, however, we can begin to make some headway into this mess. Perhaps we can even dispell the myth that liberals don't really stand for anything, they just stand against conservatives.

If "Liberal" is used in its original context as being descriptive of free persons, then liberal politics can be described as a politics that defends the individual freedoms we cherish. Progressive, then, refers to those attempts within the greater liberal movement to defend free persons by holding society accountable for its part in creating unjust situations - real situations that hurt real people.

In terms of faith, "liberal" would be used to describe those religions that believe in the idea of free will. Because we all have free will, we are all able to determine our actions and the burden of sin falls upon us individually. "Progressive" religions, then, are those within the realm of free will religions that also accept social responsibility - in my particular heritage, it is the preaching of, not only personal salvation, but also the social gospel. Thus, it is only one possible reading of religion, faith, and spiritual texts.

It is not an easy faith to hold. Because they focus on more than the individual, progressives must often defend themselves as "true" believers. This is all the more true when they embrace ideas outside of orthodoxy, or suggest that interpretation of spiritual guidelines are inevitable.

My faith is also "progressive" because I see it as incomplete. As with Abraham Maslow's idea that we are always "becoming" a person, and never quite finished perfecting our humanity, I believe that everything I do is fatally flawed in my human nature, including my faith. I make progress towards becoming the man I should be, the believer I should be, the husband and father and brother and son that I should be - but I never quite make it. Because I am a failure, and doomed to that failure by the very flesh that gives me life, I am moved towards greater compassion and acceptance. If I am going to make mistakes in my faith, I would rather make the mistake of giving the opportunity to share to too many rather than too few. I would rather make the mistake of putting forth too great an effort to understand those who are different than I am than make the mistake of not trying hard enough.

"Progressive", to me, means understanding how my failures are reflected in my faith. It means relying on others to help me understand my faith. It means approaching faith with humility and humanity rather than arrogance and intolerance.

So what does it mean to you to be progressive - spiritually or politically?

Come, let us reason together.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Progressive, Not Reactionary

As planning for the ProgFaithBlogCon continues, it provides me with innumerable opportunties for self-examination. Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish? Is there any need for bloggers - who do all of their work behind computer screens - to meet physically? After all, Rachel, Nacho, Andrew, Chris, and I (along with all the other wonderful advisors who have helped out, both formally and informally) already are getting to know and understand each other.

Well, why am I doing this? Simply because I think it is needed. Too often, when someone in this country speaks about "religion", "faith", or "values", they are referring to a small, self-selected group of Christians who refuse, in some cases, to admit that those who do not march in lockstep can even be called Christians. Then there is the open hostility to people who are Jewish and Muslim.

This is not the America - nor the faith - in which I was raised. Why me? I don't know. Because no one else was doing it and it needed to be done.

Why? What do I hope to accomplish?

Nothing. Everything.

There will be no earth-shattering trumpet blown or prophets ascending to and descending from Heaven. At best, we will meet, laugh a bit, pray a bit, learn a bit, hug each other or shake hands, and return to our lives. It is only one small meeting. It won't change the world.

But it may set the stage for it.

A colleague of mine likened public intellectuals to a bridge spanning a river - no one can make the entire span, but each can be a girder, or a weld, or a cable. Together, we can bridge the fear and ignorance that keeps us isolated and powerless. You don't build a bridge by trying to reach the other side. You build a bridge by slowly raising the next piece of the structure, hammering it in place, carefully testing its balance and connection, and then turning to the next piece.

There are many pieces of the bridge out there - but they are splintered and small and weak. Bloggers cannot change the world, but we can gather the world around those group who can. We can point the way. We can be the candle on the hilltop; the watchtower by the sea.

But it all begins with one step.

Is it necessary to gather physically? Yes. I've already made new friends, but until I hold them in my eye and my arms, they are not truly in my heart. We are friends, but we need to be brothers. Now we share our joys, but we need to share our hopes, our fears, and our failures.

And there will be many failures.

I am not trying to either drown out nor to balance the Religious Right. In fact, though a few more vocal members are an annoyance to me, they are not the main factor in this gathering at all. We are stiving to be Progressive - not "left" to their "right".

Come, Let Us Reason Together

Monday, December 12, 2005

The War that Wasn't - and the One that Is.

Have you said "Happy Holidays!" to anyone this year? If so, you could be the anti-Christ. In an effort to stave off the rapture for at least two more weeks, the Committee to Save Christmas is desperately trying to get merchants to use "Merry Christmas" rather than the more inclusive "Happy Holidays".

It would be hilarious if it weren't so serious. But it would seem that some are a bit confused about what they are defending. Is it Santa Claus or the baby Jesus?

It's enough to get Bill O'Reilly up in arms.

I am not going to let oppressive, totalitarian, anti-Christian forces in this country diminish and denigrate the holiday and the celebration...There is no reason on this earth that all of us cannot celebrate a public holiday devoted to generosity, peace, and love together...And anyone who tries to stop us from doing it is gonna face me.

Yeah, Bill, great way to defend the promise of salvation - by threatening people.

But then, isn't it somewhat strange that the new front on religious expression is in consumer outlets? I mean, really, Target and Sears did not hire the wise men to bring gifts to the baby Jesus - and, come to think of it, even Santa doesn't shop there. So why is it such a big deal?

Is it simple supremacy efforts or chauvinism?

Well, when the atheists team up with the Pope to knock consumerism as the anti-Christian force to be wary of - you have to wonder what side the Christian Right is really playing for.

Let's not forget that the idea of a "Holiday Season" is actually a Christian heritage. How many of those protesting "Happy Holidays" ever approach Christmas night with the solemnity and humility demanded by a night meant to commemorate the Deity taking on flesh as a helpless child? How many consider the dual meaning of advent - not only the promise of salvation and sacrifice, but the promise of a return to judgment?

The "Holiday Season actually should begin with Halloween - which, if spelled properly, would be Hallowed Evening. Though built on pagan traditions, it was officially blessed by the Catholic Church (which was the ONLY church at the time) as a time to remember Christian Martyrs.

Then you have Thanksgiving. This is one day that no one can possibly say was not meant to have personal religious and spiritual meaning. Yet it typically means football, food, and rapacious shopping.

Of course, there are lesser known holidays - you could call them defunct. December 8, for example, is a celebration of the Immaculate Conception (though it would be either an extremely long or a very short preganancy if we cling to Dec. 25 as Jesus' birthday). Dec. 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen - the first Christian martyr. It is also known as "boxing day", when food left over from the feast of Christmas is boxed up and given to the poor.

Then there are the twelve days of Christmas - the time between Christmas and Epiphany. Advent is held to prepare man for the coming of God. Christmas is a celebration of that coming. The following twelve days were to bring man closer to God so that he might understand and accept the gift of salvation.

The focus on Christmas is a theological error. It relieves mankind of all acts of repentance or sacrifice. It is a Christianity without responsibility. It allows believers to focus on minutia while allowing greater sins to go unnoticed. It is catching the mote in your neighbor's eye while a plank lies in your own.

Happy holidays isn't just an inclusive greeting for Jews and Buddhists and Pagans and Muslims and Hindus and whoever else wants to be non-Christian. It is actually a reflection of a deeper Christian faith; one that calls for personal responsibility, social action, and eternal humility. That is the real attack on religious faith in America - that a shallow throw-off phrase is of such prominence that it can separate brother from brother, father from son, and red states from blue.

So, Mr. O'Reilly, Happy Holidays. I've answered to you. Now feel free to answer back.

Come, let us reason together.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Other Voices, Other Rooms

At the age of 23, Truman Capote burst onto the literary scene with his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms. The novel was not intentionally autobiographical, but Capote stated that writing the coming-of-age story of a young man-to-be among carnies, emotionally distant relatives, and closeted homosexuals helped him exorcise some person demons and its success gave him a clear purpose in his life.

I chose the title of this post because, it seems, that some generation of Americans are always "coming-of-age". Suddenly (or not) they become aware of the hidden promises of democracy - and they come to grips with our legacy of falling too far short of those ideas. In this respect, America is always "becoming" and never quite finished. It is a self-actualizing country that all too often must take significant steps back and gather itself before it can push ahead again.

NJ Congressman Rush Holt is pushing ahead in a federal ban on voter intimidation and by moving forward on verified voting. How did this man NOT get named as Jon Corzine's replacement in the US Senate?

It is a national shame that we do not have any way to guarantee our democratic voting rights. The need is obvious. Help this group of bloggers protect democracy

Feel free to join the blogswarm by posting the above image.

Meanwhile, voices continue to be raised in support of the ProgFaithBlogCon. Thank you's to CrossLeft, Mainstream Baptist, Real Live Preacher, Velveteen Rabbi, Woodmoor Village, Reverend Mommy, Grateful Bear (who has a very cool hipster cat), the Shalom Center, CathColl.net, Think Buddha, Eternal Peace, Nomadic Fusion, the Cassandra Pages, Social Justice Coalition, The Corner, No More Apples, Father Jake Stops the World, Sententiae Et Clamores, Just a Bump in the Beltway, Boy in the Bands, Feminary, Hoarded Ordinaries, Another Country, The Zen Society, Baraita and Even the Devils Believe.

Growing up is never easy. It always means you have to look at things about yourself that you don't like. For Capote, that meant the latent homosexuality (that may or may not have ever bloomed). For those of us who believe in Democracy, it means finding a way to make sure votes are counted. For those of us for whom our faith guides us away from the Religious Right, it means creating a public voice and greater understanding among ourselves.

Come, let us reason together.

Feel free to join our chorus by posting the above image.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Word Spreads

Martin Luther, when facing down the entire Catholic Church, reportedly came to the conclusion, "Either the Church is right, and I will spend eternity in damnation, or I am right, and the entire Church is wrong." By nailing his theses on the door of his church, he dramatically declared his opposition to a Church that had turned away from its eternal call and become entangled in secular power struggles and turf battles.

Today, we don't nail sheets of paper to the door. Rather, we tap-tap-tap our keyboards and tiny electrons carry our words to people hundreds, even thousands of miles away. Only three days ago, my colleagues and I revealed the Progressive Faith BlogCon. Already, the cry for renewal has begun to rise.

Truth and Beauty is cautious and skeptical, but interested, nonetheless.

Faithful Progressive finds room for support.

Musings of a Discerning Woman sees logistical problems, but provides her blessings.

Boy in the Bands is worried about our graphical abilities.

Semitism.net rightly notes that I was less than all-inclusive in my original post (though I was in my head). Andrew, by the way, is helping with planning duties, and his insight has proven to be valuable.

Even the Devils Believe takes note.

Woodmoor Village is also in on the planning, and has some kind words of explanation as well.

Of course, Velveteen Rabbi (who takes inspiration from my favorite children's book) has also proven herself as a gifted partner in planning.

Mainstream Baptist is flying our banner, and assisting with the decision-making as an advisor.

Additionally, dozens of emails have already poured in, many with wonderful ideas that will take some time to implement. Thank you all.

"Come. Let us reason together."

(If you've been left out, please blame my imperfectability. It's a busy time of year for a number of reasons and my attention is being spread thin. My wife will tell you my AHDH is in massive overdrive (maybe hyper-drive). Too many ideas, not enough of me to chase down all the rabbits.)



Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What is a Public Voice?

When you think of a public voice for people of faith, who's the first person that comes to mind?

Is it a blogger? Is it a Jewish celebrant? Could it possibly be someone who abstains from public declarations of faith?

There are tons of bloggers out there who are adding their voices to an ongoing effort to provide much-needed balance for the Religious Right.

People like:
Real Live Preacher
The Shalom Center
Mainstream Baptist
Woodmoor Village
Reverend Mommy
Grateful Bear
Cross Left

Jesus' last prayer was that his followers know unity. He knew that if they went their separate ways that they would be overcome, swallowed up, destroyed. The world is no different now. It still hungers and thirsts and suffers. We are called to join in faith - and whosoever is not against me, the same shall be with me.

Join us at Progressive Faith BlogCon.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Shouldering a Burden, Building a Bridge, Blogging a Convention

In my religious tradition, we talk of the Lord "putting a burden on your heart". It is difficult to explain to someone who does not share this tradition exactly what the phrase means. It is something like "finding a purpose" in your life, but not exactly. To say I have found a purpose puts the responsibility for doing so with me. I have found my purpose. Therefore I am responsible for achieving it. I will struggle and I will overcome or fail on my own. This is not what my religion teaches as the role of a Christian.

Instead, a Christian submits to the Lord's commands. Everywhere we look, there is pain and need and suffering. Once we turned a blind eye to it, stepping over the homeless, avoiding the poor and hungry. Now we must see them, as if it were our eyes from which the scales have fallen. It isn't an easy life that is offered. Paul talks of his heart being circumcised with Christ - the covering cut away so that it lies exposed to the world. Jim Wallis explains with the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that this is the cost of discipleship - that we are given much as Christians (salvation) but that Christ calls for us to give up much - although what we give up is as individual as our lives.

Your burden doesn't come from you - it comes from God. It is the discovery of injustice so great that your heart breaks a thousand times and a grief too great for tears fills your soul. It is when you stumble upon some hidden truth and find that no one else on earth but you can possibly fulfill this role that is unfilled. It is finding a purpose, not in a way that straightens your spine with pride, but that weakens your knees with humility. It is turning back a flood with a teaspoon, knowing that you will be consumed by your efforts and quite possibly never know if you have been successful, but being unable to even contemplate stopping. It is a burden as great as the cross that Jesus stumbled with, but it is not laid upon you physically. It is laid upon your heart so that you cannot sleep when you fail to give a full measure of effort, you cannot eat because you are sick with the knowledge that your efforts are fleeting, and it is an indescribably joy you feel when you find small victories and lives touched or saved along the way.

For some time now, my passion - perhaps my burden - has been to find a public voice for Christians of progressive political values. It is what moved me to begin this blog and what pushes me to discipline myself to write daily - something I've never been able to do on my own. I am motivated both by a sense of patriotism and a growing understanding of my faith. I believe in the great ideas upon which this country was founded. I count myself fortunate to have worn a uniform in its service and to now live proudly as a citizen of it. Yet this patriotism is tempered with my faith in God. The country in which I live has granted me great freedoms, but with great freedom comes great responsibility and it is my faith from which I learned responsibility. Everywhere I look, I see that these responsibilities have been violated, and worse, too often they are violated with the name of my faith upon the lips of the guilty.

It is not only Christians who are feeling this sense of outrage - though I am proud of the Christian brethren I have met (and hope I can be found worthy of standing in their shadows). It is also progressive Jews and Buddhists that are struggling to find the public voice they have lacked in recent years. Collectively, I believe we are trying to shoulder a burden that is too large for any of us alone. That burden, that burning need to somehow do more because so much more needs to be done, has led us to begin planning a Progressive Faith BlogCon. For far too long I felt like I was alone against the entire community of faith because my conservative brethren were so quick to shout down opposition. I have discovered that I am not alone in looking again and again to the Holy Scriptures for guidance and seeing social justice as the primary means of faith's expression.

There is much about the BlogCon that is unknown - will it be big enough to fill a stadium or small enough to have room left over in the living room? Will we find a host site? Will anyone even mention it after a week?

I don't know the answers to these questions. I only know that Jesus did not say, "When you know how everything will work out, come and find me." No, he said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Struggle, stagger, fall down and bloody your knees. Crawl if you must. Just follow.

Or in my case - just blog.

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006


Friday, December 02, 2005

The Ultimate Rejection of Mercy

The United States has now executed 1,000 people since 1977, when the death penalty was "re-instated". Kenneth Lee Boyd didn't want to be remembered this way. I think that is probably understandable, but is it quantitatively better than being remembered for killing your wife and father-in-law?

Despite the intracacies of the human mind, this is an occassion for some solid thinking on the issue of capital punishment.

As I've stated, through the hardness of my own heart, I would like to preserve the death penalty for some people. However, I would restrict it to only the most heinous of crimes. After all, the ultimate penalty should only be exacted upon the ultimate criminals. It should not be used for the sake of convenience or for low levels of criminality. To do so robs the punishment of its worth - if you hang someone for holding fourteen ounces of dope, then what do you do for a whole shipload of it?

I'll not make the case that Kenneth Lee Boyd - or anyone else who was obviously guilty of killing another human being - should not face the possibility of death. Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, and Eric Robert Rudolph certainly have no dispute concerning their guilt and they all knowingly took another life while understanding it was morally reprehensible to do so. In any list of the most heinous criminals in America over the last 25 years, those three must be in the top ten. If anyone should face the death penalty, it would be people like these.

If you read up on the case, though, you'll find that the Unabomber, as was Eric Rudolph, was exempted from the death penalty. How do you reach a place where crimes such as these men committed, beyond any doubt, are given mercy, but lesser degrees of crime are given the ultimate penalty? Rudolph killed three people and injured as many as 150 because he was mad at homosexuals (although his victims were indiscriminate). Kaczynski (the Unabomber) killed three and injured 29 in bombings that lasted over an eighteen year period because he was mad at technological progress.

Yet Kenneth Lee Boyd killed two and physically injured no one else in a single event of what has to be described as psychotic behavior. Others have been executed - or come close to it and lost years of their lives - that may not have even been guilty of killing anyone.

My friend, Juan, posted recently on the monetary cost of the death penalty. Juan and I have some disagreements about this issue as a whole, but we agree that there is no benefit to the death penalty as it is utilized today. None. An obsolete blog from Texas has some more thoughts on the issue.

My personal belief is that everyone's rights are balanced by equal and opposite responsibilities. If you are going to advocate for the death penalty; then be honest as to the motivations and to the effectiveness and cost of it. Until we can use the ultimate penalty fairly and find some way to ensure it is truly used in the service of justice; then we should remove the temptation to use it arbitrarily. We cannot be trusted with the ultimate punishment if we cannot also grant the ultimate mercy.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Turning a Voice into a Chorus

A bit of music theory:

Many voices singing the same notes is called "unison" - that's what you get when the Republicans regurgitate their talking points ad naseum.

Many voices singing notes that blend into a harmonious goal are a chorus - that's what you get when a Progressive politician has a blogger watching his every move. Don't take my word, listen to the individual parts of the chorus and decide for your self.

Um, many voices singing totally different parts? That's just noise - and it's been known to come straight from the DNC.

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